Schools aren't teaching what employers really want - emotional intelligence

Anirudh Kannan
Anirudh Kannan |

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Education has changed a lot in recent decades. We moved from low-cost, public education systems to elitist private schools. We moved from the abacus to calculators to, most recently, our phones. Gradually, educational content was brought online as the internet became mainstream. 

However, these were all surface changes that would be a shallow curve on a graph. True innovation never occurred.

This innovation needs to start with the way we assess learning, and the type of learning we assess.

Right now, we make students sit examinations. They may be an accurate indication of how well a student can cram the night before an exam.

Perhaps they’re even a good measure of how eloquently they can phrase ideas. What they’re not a good barometer of, however, is learning – at least not learning in its truest sense. Instead, they focus on how well a student can represent complex concepts in a limited range of situations. Granted, the skills honed preparing for exams are important, but students need to be self-sufficient and attuned to their own needs in order to make use of them.

Unfortunately, exams don’t adequately test the skills needed in the workplace. They don’t test the interpersonal skills that, according to Forbes and Fortune magazines, will be crucial in tomorrow’s workplace. These skills have a name: emotional intelligence, or EQ.

According to Harvard Business Review, a high EQ is correlated with positive outcomes in all age ranges. That is why the Yale School of Management, in the US, gives a test on emotional aptitude and offers remedial social learning courses.  

Schools in Hong Kong – and worldwide – overlook the emotional aspects of education and growing up. That leaves students far too dependent on external structures and authority figures. 

This can have tragic implications outside of the workplace and classroom as well: the teenage suicide rate has spiked, with more than 110 students taking their lives in Hong Kong since 2005.   

It’s imperative that schools start looking after students’ emotional needs, not just for their well-being, but also to enable them to be successful in the workplace of tomorrow.

Emotional intelligence is going to be a crucial skill going forward, and the education system needs to adapt to this.